It wasn’t like me to go so long without talking with my parents in Oklahoma, but since the dreaded election, it had felt increasingly difficult to pick up the phone. My last communication with them had been weeks earlier, when I had learned how they intended to vote and had expressed my concerns, including my general disgust with humanity at the moment. It was a very civil discussion we had; and somehow, that civility of it didn’t feel quite right. I had wanted — maybe even needed — to express so much more, but didn’t exactly know how.
These were my parents, after all, and while I loved them, I had chosen more than 10 years ago to depart the world they still inhabit — to embrace a worldview that, to me, felt more open, inclusive and loving than the largely republican, fundamentalist Christian values with which I had been raised. In that time, my values had shifted quite a lot — away from the more rigid tendencies of my parents’ faith and much closer, in my opinion, to what I now believe Jesus’s message truly to have been — quite simply, to love thy neighbor. But in many ways, the gorge between my parents and me had, for many years now, felt too broad to bridge.
On one hand, I knew intuitively that I couldn’t collapse my own parents — of all people — in any way that made them worthy of the contemptuous name-calling insults that had been circulating recently; and on the other hand, I felt outraged, disappointed, and increasingly uncomfortable and unsure about how to engage with them. And again came the familiar feeling of that broad, bridgeless chasm — especially now, when so much had been at stake in this passionate and painful election.
Then, one day in December, just a few days before the winter holiday, my phone rang. It was my dad. “Hey! We want to give some money to your fundraiser!” my father said, as though no time or awkwardness at all had passed since our last conversation.
He was referring to the fundraiser for The Relational Center — where I’ve worked for two years as a therapy intern, not only developing deep emotional bonds with other community members but also actively collaborating with them in efforts toward social change. And in his voice — a voice to which I, as his daughter, was especially sensitized — I heard and felt as much care and love and enthusiasm as I ever had. After weeks of silence and wondering, I now heard all I had been aching to hear — that we were okay, that he and my mom still loved me, and that they even valued the work that I was doing. And their gift was very generous, indeed — the largest of all the donations I collected.
I was relieved, so grateful and incredibly moved — and, if I’m honest, a little confused too. I mean, the way I saw it, my work at TRC seemed diametrically opposed to much of what the new president represented. Without unfairly collapsing them, how could I make sense of this? How could they possibly support him and me too? How could both be true?
Curious for some clarity, I called them up a few weeks later. In addition to our usual check-in, I wanted to know what, if anything other than the fact that I was their daughter, had motivated them to give. After all, I had written quite a lot about my values and TRC’s values in the fundraising pitch I’d mass-emailed to family and friends. I wanted to know if there was anything specific about the work I was doing that had spoken to them.
My mom seemed confused by my question. I heard her turn away from the phone for a moment to double-check with my dad, who was apparently sitting nearby. “No, nothing specific,” came her response, “– just that you’re our daughter and we wanted to support you.”
I realized then that I had already known this would be her answer. And though my mind wanted to persist in stubborn confusion over all the apparent contradictions, my heart finally understood something that had, until now, perhaps felt like too beautiful and too painful a responsibility — that relationship is what moves people into action. Relationship is what moved my parents into action. Not my clever arguments. Not strategic campaigning. Not winning. Not being right. Not convincing them that they were wrong and should change. Not insulting them or name-calling. Not incentivizing or threatening. Not anything, but relationship. Deeply bonded, empathic relationship. My parents followed me into taking action — an action which in many ways stands in contradiction to how they voted in the election — for no other reason but this: Relationship fuels social change.
And then something else hit me hard — in all the recent talk of “building bridges, not walls”, I now understood these bridges to be more than merely metaphorical. I now understood, in fact, that I was the bridge. And in that moment on the phone with my mother, fully aware of the ideological distance between us, like a bridge, I could feel myself stretching — viscerally in body, mind and heart — becoming a new and uniquely embodied structure, spanning the gorge between my childhood roots and family origins in Oklahoma, and the fresher, more fertile ground of my chosen values and adult life here in California. And with that stretching came tears — of pain, of growth, of awareness, of responsibility to and for all my relationships, and of humbling gratitude for the gift of finally seeing it all so clearly.
*Angela Doss, MA, MFTi, is a Counselor-in-Residence at The Relational Center’s Community Project and a member of our Development Team.